Adult Movies IV

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Another Year

Film Review by Dean Duncan Aug 21, 2014

The happy married couple at the centre of writer-director Mike Leigh’s film is quite impressively drawn, and by a number of effective means. We have a leisurely accumulation of their unexceptional everyday activities, of work or domestic details, of casual conversations and such. The seasonal structure of the film helps this emphasis on the quotidian, on the seemingly inconsequential. Of course at some point lots of not much eventually starts adding up to a very great deal. That’s a documentary commonplace, of course, and it’s old hat for Leigh and his collaborators. But commonplace and old hat or not, it works, and it’s true.

There is something different here, though, and it’s quite striking. These married main characters, or maybe the possibilities that they represent, are also revealed through their interactions with all of the other people in their lives. With some of these other people you get a glimpse at and a sense of other plenitudes; for such a small-scale movie Another Year has a real sense of expanse, even vastness. These are the great French filmmaker Jean Renoir’s windows—the opening of the sick room in The Crime of M. Lange , from 1936, or the alpine vista seen toward the conclusion of 1937’s Grand Illusion—as observed and celebrated by the great French film theorist André Bazin. Renoir’s frames can suggest and evoke the whole world beyond them, and here Leigh approaches the same accomplishment with the blocking and entering and exiting of his supporting characters.

But this isn’t where all of the film’s attention is focused, or to which all the film’s energies are devoted. Another Year has been praised for its portrayal of a convincing, uncomplicated contentedness, but it has portrayed this contentedness by its attention to misery, to which it is also devoted.

In addition to glimpses of happy others, we also or mostly have all these trying, pathetic failures—Mary, Ken, Ronnie, Carl.  These people are not only at the margins of the Hepples’ lives; they seem to be miserably marginal in their own lives. They set up an opposition that is the more powerful for being so quiet. On the one hand, happy marriage, or satisfied, balanced individuals who consistently attend to others while reasonably attending to their own interests and desires. On the other, the film’s bookends, and something vaguely and suggestively central to its entire theme and purpose. At the very start Leigh gives us the intense, screen-filling close-up of Imelda Staunton’s afflicted, almost banshee countenance. During her brief tenure in the film she is imperviously, impenetrably sorrowful, and when she departs, sinking like a stone, she leaves troubling ripples. This is quite an unsettling introduction to the apparent tranquility that follows.